Living Now - - Sustainable Energy -

Protest against gold min­ing for the mine in Stra­toni, Halkidiki.

be run­ning out, in a ‘peak oil’-style sce­nario. They were wrong. Now that the easy stuff has been ex­tracted, in­dus­try, like a des­per­ate ad­dict, is switch­ing its at­ten­tion to fuel that is harder to get at.

‘Ex­treme en­ergy’ is a rel­a­tively re­cent term for un­con­ven­tional types of fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion projects, in­clud­ing tar sands, frack­ing for gas or oil, deep wa­ter oil drilling, moun­tain­top re­moval for coal, and un­der­ground coal gasi­fi­ca­tion. Its sis­ter term ‘ex­treme ex­trac­tion’ can equally be ap­plied to in­creas­ingly en­vi­ron­men­tally de­struc­tive min­ing projects, a good ex­am­ple be­ing the mas­sive gold mine on the site of an old­growth for­est in the Halkidiki re­gion of northern Greece.

Fac­tors com­mon to many ex­treme en­ergy projects in­clude: • The eco­nomics are some­times mar­ginal. Some tar sands and deep wa­ter oil projects are on hold due to the on­go­ing weak oil price. • They re­quire more in­put en­ergy to ex­tract than their con­ven­tional coun­ter­parts, lead­ing down a cul de sac of di­min­ish­ing en­ergy re­turns. For oil ex­trac­tion, the re­turn on en­ergy in­vested has tra­di­tion­ally been about 20:1, while for the Cana­dian tar sands it is roughly 4:1. • En­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age is greater, and the en­vi­ron­men­tal risks in a worst-case sce­nario are huge. The tar sands are an in­dus­trial dystopia on a spec­tac­u­lar scale, cov­er­ing about 800 square kilo­me­tres of for­mer bo­real for­est. Close to home, in Oc­to­ber 2016 BP aban­doned plans to drill in the pris­tine deep wa­ters of the Great Aus­tralian Bight fol­low­ing strong protests. • So­cial im­pacts are mul­ti­plied, whether they in­volve blast­ing near a 10-bil­lion­l­itre coal slurry dam lo­cated above the Marsh Fork Ele­men­tary School in West Vir­ginia, or coal seam gas wells emit­ting toxic hy­dro­car­bon gases 200 me­tres from the clos­est dwellings at the Spring Farm es­tate on the south­west­ern fringes of Syd­ney. En­vi­ron­men­tal harm comes with the ter­ri­tory when de­vel­op­ing or run­ning fos­sil fuel projects. There have been huge oil spills from tankers such as the Exxon Valdez, and from deep-sea oil wells such as the BP Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon. Mine dams, in­clud­ing the one run by a fifty per cent Bhp-owned com­pany in Brazil, have burst or over­flowed, send­ing vast quan­ti­ties of toxic wa­ter down­stream and, in some cases, killing many fish.

In the US, pipe­line spills are a daily oc­cur­rence, to­gether with fre­quent ex­plo­sions, and oc­ca­sional oil train fires that are so hot that it is nec­es­sary to wait for them to even­tu­ally burn out. Ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tion has lim­ited ef­fec­tive­ness given that it is cheaper for the cor­po­rate play­ers to just pay fines and dam­ages than go to the steep ex­pense of hav­ing a rig­or­ous pre­ven­ta­tive main­te­nance pro­gram in place.

Aus­tralia is not im­mune from sim­i­lar events; a risky un­der­ground coal gasi­fi­ca­tion project con­tam­i­nated up to 320 square kilo­me­tres of South East Queens­land agri­cul­tural land, lead­ing to a state ban. Fol­low­ing an ac­ci­dent in 2009, the Mon­tara well­head leaked oil into the Ti­mor Sea for 74 days, cre­at­ing a slick. In 2013, San­tos re­ported that a coal seam gas hold­ing pond had con­tam­i­nated an aquifer in the Pil­liga

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